Information Seeking: An Organizational Dilemma

By J. David Johnson | Go to book overview

ONE
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

In an information economy, organizations compete on the basis of their ability to acquire, manipulate, interpret and use information effectively. ( McGee & Prusak, 1993, p. 1)

Increasingly, individual information seeking has become a critical determinant of the success of organizational members and of the organization as a whole. In many service industries, such as banking and insurance, about 25 percent of personnel expenses are related to creating and maintaining information needed for business operations. But, disconcertingly, up to 25 percent of a knowledge worker's time is spent on marginally productive tasks related to inefficient information seeking (e.g., looking in the wrong places for information) and processing ( Marchand & Horton, 1986).

Not too long ago, information in organizations was the exclusive preserve of management. Still today, in many organizations, information is kept from people. In part, organizations are designed to encourage ignorance through specialization and rigid segmentation of effort ( Kanter, 1983). So there is a constant dilemma for organizations: the imperative (in part stemming from efficiency needs) to limit the availability of information, and the recognition that structural designs are flawed and circumstances change, requiring individuals to seek information normally unavailable to them. How organizations resolve these conflicting imperatives is a critical question for the modern organization. Unfortunately, while volumes have been written on formal organizational design, comparatively little is known about the forces that shape individual information seeking within organizations.

The comfortable world, where one's supervisor provided authoritative directives concerning organizational activities, is gradually changing to one

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